2nd September 2001
Sports| Mirror Magazine
A.C.S. Hameed will always be remembered for the sustained effort he made towards negotiating a political settlement to the ethnic conflict. He was centrally involved in at least three of the major attempts made in the past 15 years to resolve Sri Lanka's intractable armed conflict through negotiation - namely the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, the Premadasa- LTTE talks of 1989-90 and the All-Party Conference of 1990-1992, of which he was vice-Chairman.
It comes as no surprise therefore that one of the last roles he would play was to lead the discussions on behalf of his party at reaching a bi-partisan political consensus on the ethnic question. Both by temperament and ideology he was ideally suited to play the part of mediator and peacemaker
Almost alone among the non-Tamil political figures of the South, A.C.S. Hameed was regarded by the Tamil leadership as a credible personality with whom they could negotiate as and when the opportunity presented itself. This was not only because of his fluency in the Tamil language which enabled him to communicate in their idiom, while at the same time interfacing with the Sinhalese, but also due to his innate capacity, as a person belonging to a minority community himself, to empathise and understand the varying positions taken up by the Tamil opposition.
It is well known that he not only was trusted by the moderate Tamil leadership which was represented in Parliament but also enjoyed the rare distinction of knowing, and having had discussions on more than one occasion, with Prabhakaran, the reclusive and undisputed leader of the extremist LTTE. Mr. Hameed's loss therefore at a time, when a fragile window of opportunity appeared to be opening for talks between the southern political leadership and the LTTE is particularly to be regretted.
While Mr. Hameed like almost all of Sri Lanka's politicians whose lives and actions are subject to intense public scrutiny - the inevitable consequences of a lively and imaginative media and a highly volatile and politically educated electorate - did have his critics, few would gainsay his wholehearted devotion and commitment to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has wracked the country especially in the past two decades.
He had many things on his side in this respect. His early career experience as a teacher, his many years of unbroken representation as a member of Parliament of a rural electorate in the heartland of the Kandyan region, his able tenure of public office as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Education and Minister of Justice, and the many executive positions he held in the political party - the UNP - to which he belonged for over 40 years, all gave him a background of historical knowledge, acute awareness of the sensitivities involved and above all, a personal acquaintance of the political actors concerned which were unrivalled by any other contemporary politician.
Above all, his identity as a Muslim -an ethnic community which not only represented eight per cent of the country's population but also resided vulnerably scattered as small minorities in almost all of Sri Lanka's nine provinces - gave him a unique and crucial perspective on the manner in which the country's post colonial ethnic problems should be justly and durably resolved.
Accordingly, his basic position and the framework through which he projected his work, and proffered his advice to the highest leadership in the country, was that of an united country with a form of government that permitted the greatest possible latitude to pluralism and the emergence of institutional mechanisms both at the Centre and the periphery which encouraged the willing and active political participation of the varying strands that made up the Sri Lankan polity.
In his life and work he endorsed in several ways the thinking of the liberal intellectual and the processes of management of plural societies that have now come to be known as the principle of subsidiarity. One of the more serious challenges to his lifetime's work on the ethnic question comes from those who question his apparently relaxed and laid-back approach and style in the actual conduct of the negotiations he was from time to time engaged in. But to those who knew and worked with him at these times there apparently was good enough reason for his adopting a strategy of gradualism and flexibility.
For one thing the intensity of the armed conflict, the deepening polarization between the Sinhala and Tamil people that the conflict had itself engendered, and the stereotyped responses between the communities that had developed through years of confrontation, necessitated in his view, a cooling-off period and the building of trust and confidence between the protagonists if there was going to be genuine progress. He was therefore willing to sacrifice time and energy to preliminaries which others impatient for quick results found irksome. The obvious irritation with this methodology, of political personae like the late Ranjan Wijeratne, for example, in the period of the Hilton talks in 1989/90 is a case in point.
But patience and unceasing dialogue were not the only tools in his armoury. When decisive and speedy action was necessary he was not the least averse or dilatory in taking it. A.C.S. Hameed's personal exertions and display of personal courage in flying to Jaffna for one last desperate effort to preserve the peace when everything else was breaking down in June 1990 was one such outstanding example. Whether the gunfire that accompanied his hasty and unsuccessful departure from Palaly airport that afternoon was that of hostile LTTE cadres or a pre-emptory warning volley by troops manning the airfield perimeter is a matter of some contention.
Whatever it be, the lesson that peacemaking is a risky venture that needs to be engaged in with circumspection is something to be learned.
Seen in this light, A.C.S. Hameed's ceaseless engagement in working for peace, reconciliation and harmony in a critically divided society signifies a singular and courageous contribution in these difficult times.
A friend of many years Harindranath George Dias passed away on Sunday, August 5. His wife Wai Tsing told me George had been taken with a severe pain in the chest as the two of them were playing a game of scrabble late into the night. George went quickly but peacefully.
Although George had been through fairly serious illnesses years ago he was recently in good health. It was only two weeks prior to his death that he was at the Royal College 43-44 group dinner at the Parsi Sports Club given in farewell to Sivarasa and wife who were due to leave the island for good to Australia. George, together with Thavendran who also died only about two years ago, was the live wire behind the Royal 43-44 group which he nurtured and kept going. At the dinner, I remember his speaking of updating the Directory of Group members both in Sri Lanka and across the world.
Why had he to go so early? This was and is the melancholy thought that keeps recurring to me. He was only 69, he loved life, was a devoted family man and loved to keep up with his friends of whom he had a great many throughout his college days, at the Peradeniya University where he found his wife Wai Tsing and in his professional career. He had a way of attracting friends through his sincerity and humble ways. Besides he was keen that we all shared his friendships and many of his friends bonded and renewed their friendships through him. I was not so much amazed as touched by the vast gathering of his friends who turned up at his funeral on Wednesday, August 8.
Fame and position sat lightly on George whether it was in regard to his personal life or in relation to his friends.
It was just like him not to make much of his career which was an illustrious one. He began soon after graduation as a teacher at St. Joseph's College for two years. That was not for him. I remember him talking to me about the book 'Chalk in my Hair', a semi-humorous account of the teaching profession - the book Wai Tsing tells me is still around in his library. From there on it was all banking. First in several managerial positions with the Bank of Ceylon, then moving to the People's Bank as a Deputy General Manager. In 1972 George played a vital role in founding the National Savings Bank becoming its first General Manager. After a short stint with the ABN - later AMRO Bank he acted as consultant to the Pan-Asia Bank. In his last few years in the banking profession he became the south East Asian representative of the Mellon Bank following which he went into retirement.
Despite such a busy professional life he found time to serve on the Royal College Union Committee as Treasurer and as Secretary of the RCU Trust. His children are all well set up in life - two boys and two girls, each of them and their spouses in executive positions in various prestigious institutions both in Sri Lanka and abroad.
When I wanted a photograph of George it was not easy getting one. In the end one of his daughters was able to send one to me with a note to say a proper one was found with difficulty since in all the hundreds of photos we have of him, he is always looking away from the camera or down at the grandchildren, or his face is half-hidden! That was just George's manner and that's how we would like to remember him. May God bless his soul.
Hussain Pakir Saibo
Dr. George Ratnavale passed away on August 17, 1996 following a heart attack. George was a prince among men and an outstanding doctor. His personality had more facets than the average diamond.
He was the most brilliant student to pass through the portals of Medical College and there have been many bright young men who have graduated over the past hundred years or so. He came first in the first class in all professional exams in the undergraduate and final eight exams at Medical College. No student has since improved on this classic record. He was awarded eight gold medals, two silver, exhibition and diploma awards. He carried these talents into his post-graduate years in London with distinction.
On returning to Sri Lanka he was for many years a lecturer in neurology and much sought after in private practice. George had a great flair for teaching - his students adored him and hung on his every word. Lots of them, many of them in far flung places of the world, will remember him fondly.
George was a tall, handsome man loaded with charisma. He loved entertaining and being entertained. He was merry-eyed, jocular and full of fun; he teased his friends unmercifully - the ladies just loved him. At a party, the best seat in the house was the one next to George.
After many years of teaching, in the prime of his life he took up a teaching appointment in Singapore. After a year he was appointed Consultant Neurologist at the Neuro-Psychiatric Institute at Rozelle and Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia. During this time - probably the more carefree period of his life, he was the doyen of the Sri Lankan community in Sydney and an inaugural President of the Sri Lanka Association.
He and his elegant wife, who was devoted to him, threw wonderful and frequent parties at their cosy home adjoining the hospital. They travelled the world extensively on conferences and holidays meeting their many overseas friends. When he returned to Sri Lanka he settled down in Colombo and developed an extensive neurological practice.
He taught briefly at the Ragama private medical school till it was acquired by the State. It was most interesting to listen to his various unusual medical cases. He was a doctor's doctor as well, and solved many puzzling cases for his medical colleagues.
George was never interested in amassing a fortune. He was calm and courteous and gave every patient a full measure of time. He was a man for all seasons and we who were close to him will remember him fondly till our dying day.
Farewell Prince George!
Dr. Bede Muller
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